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Sub-area plan has trouble maintaining Sequim's rural feel





Sequim is a city divided, in contradiction with itself. While city officials try to maintain its small town feel, the prospect of impending and explosive growth threatens the city's rural nature.

"It's been one of the biggest contradictions and it's the hardest to accomplish,"

Sequim special projects manager Frank Needham said during a June 2 council study session. The session had been set aside to only discuss the city's proposed sub-area plan.

The sub-area plan, Needham said, is a contradiction itself. As the plan's vision statement reads, "Sequim will be the center of financial, commercial, retail, cultural, educational, recreational, medical services and activities on the northern Olympic Peninsula, while maintaining its friendly small town and rural atmosphere."

At the same time, though, the whole purpose of the plan is to increase density in the city's core area, providing both housing and economic opportunities. According to Needham, over the next eight years 78 million baby boomers will retire, the majority of whom will choose to relocate to rural areas.

The proposed sub-area plan calls for higher density residential areas, as well as higher density commercial and office space in the form of mixed-use development: storefront commercial space on the first floor, office space on the second and residential on the third and fourth floors.

"Cities all over the state are trying to figure out how to match their vision with the reality of what's happened to their communities," Needham said as he showed the council a number of town center plans from other municipalities similar to Sequim, including the city of Leavenworth and the town of Eatonville.

"We might need a separate vision statement for the sub-area plan," Mayor Laura Dubois said. "A lot of the things we've seen don't really go with a

prairie community. "

City attorney Craig Ritchie warned against making a vision statement too specific because it could come back to haunt the city should a developer decide to sue the municipality.

"I don't like them because I have to defend the city from the vision statement," Ritchie said. "They're really harmful."

Ritchie said that instead, the council should stick with a statement that he described as "warm and fuzzy." According to Councilman Ken Hays, in planning such vision statements are called "motherhood goals."

The sub-area plan proposes to create two separate zoning districts, one that would provide for mixed-use development and a second that would be residential only, allowing housing units higher densities and increased building heights. The proposed height increases, which provide for up to five-story buildings, have taken the most criticism from Sequim residents and council members alike. According to Needham, the residential component of the plan has been shrunk, but the height increases are not altered.

Councilman Paul McHugh said that while the city should strive to preserve historical structures and a rural feel, the purpose of the proposed plan is to keep Sequim's downtown vibrant and usable and in order to do so there has to be a residential element within walking distance.

Councilwoman Susan Lorenzen said she wants the city hall, which the city plans to rebuild, to be kept inside the city core.

"That just kind of creates a center and other things will be attracted there," Lorenzen said.

City staff will present the council with a city hall update on Monday, July 7.

The council asked staff to alter the plan, making it more generalized. Rather than include specific heights or densities, the plan should be limited to basic goals. Specifics would be established later through ordinances.

"You set the goals, but you don't make ordinances, that comes later," Ritchie said.

The council agreed to put out a request for proposals in order to retain the services of an urban planner. The planner would be responsible for creating the final sub-area plan, as well as creating illustrations to go along with it. Meanwhile, based on the council's June 2 suggestions, Needham plans to make corrections to the current draft and present it during a June 16 study session.

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